By DAN LYNE
Believe it or not, it’s time to start training for the Missoula Marathon (July 10) or any number of other Northwest marathons that will be held starting in early June through mid July. The hard part for many beginner marathoners is that after they register for the race, they’re not really certain how to start training. Often, people simply download a free marathon training plan. Unfortunately, many of these plans only provide what amounts to a spreadsheet that details mileage and workouts for each day of the 16-20 week plan.
This is simply not enough information to ensure your success, especially if you’re a beginner marathoner. Training for a marathon puts much more strain on your body, compared to training for a 5 or 10k. The purpose of this article is to help “kick start” your training for any of these upcoming marathons, so over the next 30 days you implement smart training and nutrition habits. Follow-up articles in this series will discuss specific workouts and training strategies you can use during your own marathon training.
All of the following races are still open for registration. Although there are many marathons throughout the Northwest, following are some of most popular:
Missoula Marathon – July 10th – capped at 1,500. One of the best small marathons in the U.S.
Rock N’ Roll Seattle Marathon – June 18th – Starts near the Space Needle, ends at CenturyLink Field. This new finish location eliminates 280 ft of incline from previous races.
Vancouver USA Marathon – June 19th – ranked by Runner’s World Magazine as one of the 10 best new marathons in the U.S.
Pacific Crest Marathon – June 25th – Sunriver, OR – run at 4,200 ft, this is part of the famous Pacific Crest Triathlon & Weekend Sports Festival.
Foot Traffic Flat Marathon – July 4th – Sauvie Island, OR – located on an island in the middle of Willamette River, just north of Portland. One of the West Coast’s flattest and fastest marathon and half marathon running events
Before You Start
Running is more intense than most regular fitness activities. Prior to starting a marathon training program, check with your doctor to ensure it’s safe for you to take up a 16 – 20 week program that will involve some high mileage runs.
Ensure You Have a Base
Before you begin your marathon training program, it’s important to have a base of at least 125 miles. For a beginner, this may take 3-4 months. My rule is that athletes should be running approximately 20 miles per week and be able to complete 6 miles at once, comfortably when they start a marathon training program. It’s best if you have completed at least a 10k race before attempting a marathon.
Get the Right Running Gear
As you start your program, ensure you have good gear. Worn-out shoes that don’t fit well are one of the most common causes of injury. Go to a specialty running store and get fitted for a pair of running shoes that fit your running style, body size and mileage goals. Ensure that you are running in shorts, shirts and apparel that are made from materials that wick sweat. These “technical” materials don’t soak up moisture like cotton.
Staying Motivated to Train
Make a plan to exercise with a group or at a certain time per day. Hold yourself accountable to this plan by writing it out and posting it where you can see it every day. Keep your running regular. Whether it’s every day at the same time or every other day, be consistent. Finally, I recommend that you build a support network. Meet with friends once or twice a week to complete your track workouts or long run.
Eat Well & Rest
Proper nutrition is essential to your success. Just because you’re training for a marathon and getting a lot of exercise, doesn’t mean that you can eat whatever you want. Consuming the right foods at the right times will allow your body to both recover and perform the way you expect. A balanced diet is key. While training, runners must consume carbohydrates to fuel and maximize their muscles. In addition to carbohydrates, you will need to add protein and the American Dietetic Association recommends that athletes get 20-35% of their calories from Fat.(1)
Hydration is critical. Especially as the weather starts getting warmer and you’re running farther. Drink plenty of water before all of your runs. Carry water and / or a sports drink on runs of 8+ miles or when it’s 70+ degrees out. Ensure you drink sufficient water & sports drinks after your runs to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes.
Add Variety to Your Workouts
Avoid the injury bug by combining running with other forms of cardio exercises. The stationary bike, elliptical, swimming, stair climber and rowing machine are excellent alternatives to running. A 16-20 week training program can put a lot of stress on your body. Mixing cross-fit and circuit training type workouts helps to build strong and injury resistant muscles. My training plan schedules these workouts approximately twice per week.
Complete Runner’s Stretches & Use a Foam Roller
Nothing slows your marathon training like an injury. Running with muscles that are cold and not properly stretched can result in muscle strains. Stretching speeds up the recovery after work-outs thanks to the increased blood flow to the muscles. Begin your runs with 5 – 10 minutes of easy jogging. Next, stretch your slightly warm muscles to prepare yourself for your run. Focus on stretching the major muscle groups used in running — the quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors.
In my experience, a foam roller is the one of the best tools for both injury prevention and to loosen tight muscles. Foam rollers can provide soft tissue work to help many athletes, in any setting. Foam rollers are an important part of my marathon training.
Learn How to Run Slowly
It’s important that you run at varying speeds. Although runners want to get faster, if you’re new to training for a marathon, you need to learn to run at a slow pace on your easy days so you can run further and recover from recent hard workouts.
Weeks 1 – 4 Training Schedule
Training Plan Workouts
The above plan is for the first 4 weeks of a 16 week program. We want to start slowly and gradually increase our mileage. Following are workout descriptions.
Easy Runs – Completed at a easy intensity, where you should be able to talk comfortably throughout the run. Your effort corresponds to a rating of 4-5 on a scale of 1-10.
Cross Training – Combination of a non-impact aerobic activity with circuit or strength training. The circuit training is completed quickly with minimal rest between events at a 7 out of 10 level. Strength training will help overcome the fatigue experienced in the later parts of a long race. Detailed workouts will be provided in subsequent posts.
Tempo Run – Do the easy first and last parts of these runs at an effort level of 4. Typically warm-up and cool downs will last 10 minutes. Complete the shorter Tempos (3-4 miles) at 10k pace or effort level 6-7. Later Tempos will be longer. The goal is to get your body used to running at a quicker/controlled pace over longer distances.
Track Work – Some call this speed or interval work. This is very important to your training. You will gain huge results in less time and with less joint stress. Warm up and cool down at an easy effort level of 3-4. The speed of each interval depends on the length. Short distances (100 and 200m) are at a controlled sprint (8-9 level). 400 – 800m are at 5k pace. Longer intervals will be added later in the schedule.
Fartlek – 1 mile warm-up at easy pace. Then run 1 minute at 5k pace, followed by 2 minutes easy. You can extend the rest if necessary, but ensure you get at least 3-4 bursts per mile. It’s best to run this workout on a marked trail so you don’t have to stop at lights or for traffic. Finish the run with a 1 mile cool down.
100m strides – Completed on a track or athletic field. Strides are a controlled sprint. They are 75 – 100m in length. They should be completed weekly and will help develop speed and endurance. I recommend 30 seconds rest between each stride.
Take things one day at a time, trust in yourself, and trust in your plan. Stay tuned for more marathon training workouts. In my next post I’ll cover specific workouts and mileage milestones you should be achieving in weeks 5-8 of your marathon training plan.
Dan Lyne is a long distance runner from Camas, WA. With over 36 years of running experience, he specializes in coaching long distance runners and helping them achieve their half and full marathon goals through his website, middleagemarathoner.com.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is based on the author’s personal experience and thorough personal studies. The information provided here is designed to help you make informed decisions about your health. It is not intended as a substitute for any treatment that may have been prescribed by your doctor or physical therapist. All forms of exercise pose some inherent risks. The author advises readers to take full responsibility for their safety and know their limits. There is no guarantee that you will experience the same results & benefits as presented and you accept the risk that the results can differ by individual.